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DHEC board nominates new environmental agency director

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Staff Report
Published Jan. 26, 2012

The S.C. Board of Health and Environmental Control has chosen a candidate to head the state’s public health and environmental protection agency at a time when the organization is at the eye of a political storm over development of new port facilities on the Savannah River.

Catherine Templeton
Catherine Templeton
Catherine Templeton, who currently heads the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, is the board’s choice to lead DHEC as commissioner, said DHEC board Chairman Allen Amsler.

Amsler said Templeton’s nomination will be sent to Gov. Nikki Haley for approval. If approved by Haley, Templeton’s nomination will then be submitted to the S.C. Senate for confirmation.

Templeton, who formerly worked as a labor attorney at Ogletree Deakins in Charleston, has often been at Haley’s side as the governor has raged against labor unions in the wake of the Machinists’ union’s challenge to Boeing’s decision to build a plant in North Charleston. The union charged that Boeing was punishing its members in the state of Washington by building the new plant in a staunch anti-union state.

The DHEC board has named Bob King, DHEC’s deputy commissioner of Environmental Quality Control, as acting commissioner, effective Feb.1.

Current DHEC Commissioner Earl Hunter plans to retire after more than 30 years with the agency, more than 10 of which have been spent in the agency’s top post.

DHEC’s announcement came on Wednesday, the same day as a vote in the S.C. House of Representatives to overturn years of DHEC rulings on development of new ports on the river that divides South Carolina and Georgia.

The House unanimously passed joint resolution H.4627 to suspend all DHEC decisions since 2007 concerning navigability, depth, dredging, wastewater disposal, sludge disposal and collateral issues on South Carolina’s portion of the Savannah River.

The 111-0 vote was a slap at Haley’s policy on Georgia’s plans to expand its port operations in the Savannah River basin. During last week’s State of the State address, Haley was already on the defensive about her pronouncements, which Senate President pro tem Glenn McConnell and others have said are far too cozy with Georgia officials.

“I know many in this chamber are concerned about the situation with our ports,” Haley said in her State of the State. “The concerns are valid, because our ports are vital. Let me start by assuring you that no one will work harder to get the funding necessary to deepen the Port of Charleston — starting with the creation of a port infrastructure fund in this year’s executive budget.

“There has been much discussion about DHEC’s decision and whether two viable ports in the region are good or bad for the economics of South Carolina businesses and our state,” Haley said. “I have said it before, and I will say it again: I am not afraid of a 48-foot Georgia port, 36 miles up the Savannah River, confined to one-way traffic. You should not be either.”

On Jan. 18, state Reps. Jim Merrill and Leon Stavrinakis, both of Charleston, introduced the resolution along with Columbia lawmaker James Harrison.

The resolution notes that the Savannah River Maritime Commission supersedes DHEC’s authority for the river. It also says DHEC violated the maritime commission’s authority by granting a water permit to the Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which is expected to deepen the Savannah River to 48 feet.

The permit approval “could present imminent and irreversible public health and environmental concerns,” according to the resolution.

The House vote is the latest shot in the controversy surrounding the DHEC board’s decision in November to issue the permit.

The resolution will now be sent to the state Senate. If the Senate approves, the resolution will go to Haley for her signature or veto.

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